RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump spent a lot of his first State of the Union address talking about the state of the economy. He praised the Republican tax overhaul that was passed last year. He took credit for the booming stock market and for a record number of jobs in the U.S.
(SOUNDBITE OF 2018 STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including...
TRUMP: ...Including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone.
MARTIN: Is the president right? Let's ask NPR business editor Uri Berliner. He's in our studio this morning.
URI BERLINER, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: Is the president right?
BERLINER: Well, he's right about the number of new jobs. But jobs have been growing steadily for a number of years now. And in fact, job growth in the first year of President Trump's administration was a little bit weaker than in the last year of President Obama's administration.
MARTIN: All right. So President Trump made this big show of saving more than a thousand jobs at that Carrier plant in Indiana, if you'll remember back. That plant was going to close and move the jobs to Mexico. It didn't happen. That factory has had a couple round of layoffs since then. And I say this because last night, we actually spoke with one of the employees who was laid off at Carrier. Her name is Renee Elliott. She voted for Trump in 2016. And we asked her what we - what she thought of the speech last night.
RENEE ELLIOTT: I think that it was pretty pathetic that he mentioned the manufacturing jobs. I would've liked to have heard him say, I'm sorry that I didn't own up to my promises that I made to all the Carrier workers. He forgot about us, and he pretty much scooped us under the rug like it didn't happen.
MARTIN: So how far has the president gotten, Uri, to making the U.S. a manufacturing powerhouse again?
BERLINER: Well, some setbacks, like layoffs at Carrier, but last year was a pretty good year for manufacturing hiring. And the economy added 200,000 jobs, which is a pretty good turnaround from the previous year.
MARTIN: Overall, the president - is he correct to say the economy is pretty strong right now? I mean, we know the stock market's been sky-high. How is the economy doing right now by other metrics? And how much is the president - how much credit should he get for that?
BERLINER: Well, you know, economies are big, complicated things. And presidents always take credit when they're going well, and they get the blame when the economy is doing poorly. But presidents can't command the economy. They're just so complex. There's so many other things that go into an economy, things from interest rates to the psychology of employers, to consumer confidence, to what's going on overseas.
So, you know, in so many ways, the first year of President Trump's economy looked a lot like President Obama's economy in terms of job growth. The stock market did well. Consumer confidence was getting a little better. But in so many ways, it's not really that different from President Obama's economy, except, perhaps, maybe in the confidence of employers.
MARTIN: So what about wages? Because we've heard for years that wages have been stagnant. Last night in his State of the Union, the president said that wages are rising. Are they?
MARTIN: But they are.
BERLINER: They - barely.
MARTIN: So barely - you're saying barely.
BERLINER: I'm saying barely. Wages have been stagnant in the U.S. for a really, really long time. The average worker's wages really hasn't grown much since the mid-'70s. So last year, once you adjust for inflation, the average worker's pay increased by less than one-half of 1 percent. So that's a pretty meager increase. It is an increase, but it's not - there's - it's very hard to make the case that these years and years of wage stagnation have been reversed.
MARTIN: Right. All right, NPR business editor Uri Berliner breaking down the president's State of the Union address last night. Thanks so much, Uri.
BERLINER: Thank you, Rachel.